The Founding Fathers v. Self Interest

December 17, 2019

As this nation nears its third impeachment of a sitting president it is clear that the American people are clearly divided. This division has been analyzed over and over again as Republicans v. Democrats, conservatives v. liberals,  coastal elites v. the heartland forgotten, Trumpists v. Constitutionalists and the President v. Congress. What we are experiencing as the House of Representatives nears its vote is a mix of all of the above reasons for our political polarization. There is, however, one more source of the division that needs to be analyzed further,  a source which may provide an insight into why we as a nation do not see eye to eye on the two impeachment articles presented by the Democrats in the House.

The supporters of impeaching President Trump continually stress that abuse of power was the primary concern of the Founding Fathers when they included  the language on the removal of a sitting chief executive from office. Historians, constitutionals scholars and media pundits looked back to the Constitutional Convention and found that the Framers were fearful of excessive power in the hands of a president, and more importantly excessive power that would be used to weaken opposition forces and maintain control of government.

The Founding Fathers feared a return to monarchy with limitless, unchecked power. Just today over 750 historians and other academics voiced support for impeachment citing constitutional principles, the intent of the Framers and the threat to democracy posed by the Trump presidency. As for those everyday Americans who support impeachment, they often stress the importance of the rule of law, separation of powers and the absolute necessity of protecting the constitution as the guiding document that is the foundation of our government and indeed our way of life. They also detest President Trump with a passion and base their passion on constitutional grounds rather than simple hatred.

But those who are fighting the impeachment of President Trump are less enamored with all this talk of abuse of power, constitutionalism and threat to democracy. They often point out that impeachment is a political act and the Democrats are merely seeking to weaken President Trump as the country moves toward the 2020 election. Republicans in the House and Senate do not see President Trump as engaging in abuse of power during the Ukraine foreign aid process and instead support his actions, while vilifying his detractors. While some will say the Republicans have little if any appreciation of what the  Founding Fathers were concerned about in terms of abuse of power, to the anti-impeachment side this constitutional exercise is all about weakening President Trump and has little to do with “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But then there are those Americans in opposition to impeachment. The nearly 50% of the those opposed to removing President Trump are likely fearful of the political and economic chaos that removal of a president will create. These are prosperous times, with little unemployment, a hot stock market, rising wages and solid consumer confidence. Most Americans, including those in favor of impeachment, don’t know a great deal about the constitution or the thinking of the Framers of the constitution. But Americans do know economic prosperity and the benefits of sustained growth. Constitutional principles are fine in theory, but economic self -interest overshadows this governing document. Americans by their capitalist nature are “pocketbook patriots” and when faced with a challenge to their economic self-interest by a constitutional argument will likely follow their pocketbook.

No one can predict how the impeachment will play out; who knows there might be a new revelation that helps solidify either side. But the American people, if there is any certainty at this point, is that they are tired of impeachment, enjoying a financial mini-boom, and do not want to see this country and this economy fall into instability and unpredictability. The Founding Fathers may be turning over in their graves at how little appreciation there is today with their concerns over abuse of power but they shouldn’t be surprised since self-interest is also a fundamental principle of our country, our government and our way of life.


How to Watch the Impeachment Hearings

November 19, 2019

Week One of the impeachment hearings was certainly not the equivalent of watching the Super Bowl or even Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions.  The reviews from across America described the hearings as “boring”, ” hard to follow”, “partisan”, and no where near a “game changer.” Those Americans who bothered to inform themselves about “Ukrainegate” often turned to their favorite cable talk show for the analysis that solidified their position about whether the President was impeachable. There is  some poll data that suggests the public is slowly coming to the position that President Trump should be impeached but with so much opinion gathering that is often unreliable it is difficult to determine whether the work of the Democrats is really having an impact.

Unlike the Nixon Watergate hearings we live in a far different world of politics and media. Most Americans don’t sit down after dinner to watch the evening news or watch the inquiry from their favorite watering hole. Because we are so divided and angry as a nation, the questioning of witnesses creates a glaze effect as viewers just can’t bring themselves to see the drama unfolding as diplomats challenge the veracity of the President or Republicans try their best to debunk testimony. Back in the 70’s Americans watched with rapt attention to see which Republicans would turn on Nixon. Today what we see, at least for now, is Democrats talking about the end of democracy while the GOP provides a staunch defense of President Trump as just doing his job; it is all so predictable and indeed “boring.” Some wiseguy pundits have suggested that to get the peoples’ attention somber background music should be played or a running scorecard “hits” or “misses” in the questioning; anything to get the attention of a tired audience.

Perhaps this week will bring a bit more public interest to the hearings as the Democrats try to link the President to the only Latin phrase Americans will remember – quid pro quo. But even if the Democrats score a game changer, the Republicans will not lose their base of support or see some of their members bolt from the ranks. Remember Trump’s base agrees with him that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and nothing would or should happen to him. Because Trump has effectively developed what is often termed a “cult of personality” die hard fans in and out of Congress are not going to move over to the other side.

So what we are faced with is a litany of witnesses trying to convince Americans that their President did wrong, Democrats hoping that their efforts will galvanize support for impeachment, Republicans holding fast with their leader, and Americans knowing that impeachment is not going to remove the President, while they wait for the 2020 election. In a real sense many Americans believe they should judge the President rather than Congressional committees in large part because they don’t trust Democrats or Republicans

And so the impeachment soap opera continues, daily installments of bland bureaucrats trying their best to deliver the truth, while Democrats and Republicans try to juice up the proceedings with ominous claims and the President sending along threatening tweets to get the attention of the audience. The television ratings are weak because the American public have either made up their mind, don’t care or are waiting for their chance to make a decision of President Trump. The only drama that has occurred in the hearings is the face off between Fox and CNN over which cable network deserves the attention of the American people. So far Americans aren’t watching.


Democrats Forget the Real Issues

March 20, 2019

With the national economy going full blazes, jobs plentiful and more people with a few more bucks in their pockets (except the rich who have bushel baskets full of bucks) the Democrats running for President are going off the rails with issues that are non-starters or worse yet scare the livin’ daylights out of many voters.

Elizabeth Warren started off  with some likely popular policy recommendations-free day care, tax reform for the middle class and the break-up of the social media giants. But then recently she and other pretenders to the White House started talking about reparations for slavery, changing the constitution to do away with the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court and embracing socialist-like policies as the answers to America’s income inequality disaster. Victory  for the Democrats in 2020 will not be won by fringe issues that most voters only have a passing understanding of or view as anti-American.

The Democrats continue to forget that they once were the party of the working men and women in this country and that Democratic Presidents like FDR, JFK, LBJ, Clinton and Obama won the White House because they talked the talk and walked the walk of the middle class. I still remember JFK standing in front of factory gates in Milwaukee, my hometown, shaking hands with workers and asking for their vote. Needless to say, he took Wisconsin in 1960.

If the Democrats want to win in 2020 they need to choose a candidate and forge a message around issues like tax reform for the middle class, infrastructure projects particularly in rural area and small towns, realistic climate change policies, affordable health care and scandal-free government. The American middle class is beginning to see that the Trump crowd is only out for the rich, the well born and of course Wall Street, but what they hear on the stump are Democrat candidates who either are fixated on Trump or introduce ideas that have zero chance of success.

If the Democrats want to win in 2020 they need to talk about fixing capitalism, not replacing it with “soft socialism.” Democrats need to talk the talk of all those carpenters, electricians, plumbers, nurses,  teachers, technicians, farmers, truck drivers, and waitstaff, who are looking for a leader who understands their life and their challenges. Democrats continue to be wedded to so-called identity politics – directing their policy prescriptions to African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and Gays – rather than presenting policies directed at improving the lives and futures of the middle class, whatever their skin color, religion or sexual identity.

What this country has experienced these last two years is a class war clearly won by the Republicans and the White House as they effectively filled the pockets of the rich, gave crumbs to the rest and scared the middle class with bogus claims that the identity crowd was destroying America. To win the White House in 2020 the Democrats must change the political conversation and tell the middle class how a change of party in the White House will make their lives and their futures better. How about this for a Blue Hat logo – Make The Middle Class Great Again.

 


The Republican Fear Factor

February 18, 2019

The Republicans, whether in the White House or in Congress, are really masters of fear-mongering, in fact they are brilliant pushing at a political strategy that works. The list of fears is long and diverse – fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of gun laws, fear of taxes, fear of strong women, fear of big government, and now fear of socialism. I may have left a few out but I think you get my drift.

The Democrats are novices at the fear game and have not been up to the challenge of tapping into the driving force of voter motivation. They have tried with global warming/climate change and now with taxing the rich but they just don’t know how to convince people that governing is about cowering in a corner – whatever happened to the land of the free and HOME OF THE BRAVE.

Thanks to the progressive side of the Democrats in Congress pushing for a Green Deal, Medicare for all and tax increases on the rich the Republicans are back at the fear gambit  characterizing the female leaders of the movement as radicals who are taking the United States down the road to Venezuela. Fear has been at the core of the Trump strategy, especially with immigrants, and so the long knives are out to convince Americans that they must fear big spending, big taxes and big programs.

Now what may help the Democrats deal with the fear factor is that the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, does not appear to wilt in the face of President Trump’s threats or the Republican leadership. Also the new women in the House like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show little concern over challenging cabinet officials, lobbyists and the Republican men. The fact that she and others might get their facts wrong or over play their policy recommendations has not stopped them from responding to the fear strategy with a healthy dose of class warfare.

So as the politics of governing plays out in the coming months what we will likely see is a tug of competing strategies as the Republicans continue to try and scare the livin’ daylights out of Americans with the fear strategy while the Democrats try and convince voters that they have been cheated out of their hard earned money by greedy millionaires and billionaires.

The fact that Trump Republicans continue to hold onto their base suggests that the fear strategy still works (at least while the economy remains strong), but preliminary polling shows that Americans like the concept of Medicare for all, believe that climate change must be addressed, and agree that the rich need to start paying their fair share of taxes. We could be at a turning point in American politics as fear is replaced with class, in fact the 2020 election is likely to be a contest between these two powerful motivations.

 

 

 


Even You Could Run For President

January 28, 2019

By my rudimentary calculation we are about 22 months from the 2020 elections. To most common sense citizens that would appear to be a long, long away from casting ballots for a whole host of local, state and national leaders. But this is the United States and already candidates from both parties are testing the political winds for the presidency – visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, forming so-called exploratory committees ( the fancy name for raising money) and trying to get as much name and face recognition as possible.

Remember those days when Uncle Al asked you what you wanted to be when you grow up and the answer often times was President of the United States. Well, although the career options have increased a bit to include astronaut, professional athlete, and start up billionaire, the allure of the presidency still remains in the mix.  Ask any of the ever increasing gaggle of Democratic politicians who have already thrown their hat into the ring – Harris, Warren, Gillibrand, Gabbard, Castro ( not Fidel), Sanders and a couple of guys I have never heard of. Still out there waiting in the wings are Biden, O’Rourke, Brown, Booker, Klobuchar and maybe even Hillary.

On the Republican side, There is Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, with likely candidate former governor John Kasich of Ohio talking policy, and of course The Donald, if he lasts that long. A run for the presidency by Mitt Romney is certainly not out the question, and who knows many Jeb Bush will give it a try.  As the White House continues its implosion look for more Republicans brave enough to take on a sitting president.

And don’t count out the independents who could decide to muck up the two party system- billionaire Michael Bloomberg, billionaire Howard Schultz and billionaire Tom Steyer – all short on national political experience but holding gobs of money, which is the mother’s milk of a run for the presidency.

All this traffic shows is that despite the fact that the job of running the United States is one bit migraine headache with little gratitude for accomplishments and crazy people at every turn, the egos of these people is so large that they think they have what it takes to hold the highest office in the land and run the world.

Not surprisingly, no where to be found is a candidate who actually runs something, other than selling coffee or making vacant promises. It would be nice to see a local official, a bureaucrat, a small business owner or a platoon leader running for the White House, but alas these options are off the table.

We are a long way away from November, 2020 but who knows maybe someone who exudes humility, common sense, compassion, and yes, honesty will come forward, after all anyone over 35 and a natural born citizen can run for the White House. Let’s face it, if Donald Trump can grab the golden ring, anyone can.

 


The Endgame

January 17, 2019

What might the end of the partial government shutdown look like? Of course the answer to that question is based on the assumption that Trump and Pelosi are able to put the national interest ahead of politics and ego. This might be too much to ask, but let’s give it the ol’ college try or better yet the ol’ rational leader try.

Scenario # 1 – Republican leaders in both house of Congress start to really feel the heat from constituents, especially those people standing in airport security lines for hours, and muster sufficient votes to override Trump’s veto ending the shutdown. Two-thirds of both the Senate and House would have to be on board but if Mitch McConnell gives the OK, Trump could save face and say he tried but Congress overruled him on the wall. This is not some wild/implausible scenario because politicians know when to “fold them” if they feel voter wrath.

Scenario # 2 – Nancy Pelosi uses some new number for border security and the wall in exchange for major immigration reform – protecting the Dreamers,  ending the roadblocks for those seeking asylum, and maybe even beginning a process of establishing a pathway to citizenship to those here illegally. Such a mega deal is likely a bit far fetched but Trump is so boxed into a corner right now that he might agree to a larger reform if he could claim some sort of victory, any victory.

Scenario # 3 – Government employees go to the streets and use the power of the media to further erode Trump’s position. Right now what is presented on news programs are singular stories of hardship, but if thousands of workers march on Washington or to the offices of members of Congress then a protest movement is formed that would be impossible to ignore. Add a bit of non-violent sit down strikes into the mix and those in power will be hard pressed to look away.

Scenario # 4 – Major business leaders band together and buy television time, stage a Twitter attack on Trump and reach out to members of Congress demanding that the shutdown end because it is costing their business and the national economy a fortune. If Congress won’t listen to the federal workers or CNN, they just might listen to the big banks, the Fortune 500 companies and all those billionaires who just want to end the uncertainty. Can you imagine the impact that public comments from Warren Buffett or Bill Gates demanding an end to shutdown would have on the White House and Congress?

Scenario # 5 – The President gives his State of the Union and continues his tirade against the Democrats for denying him the wall; Pelosi refuses to budge; the federal workers head deeper into debt, the country inches a bit closer to a recession, and Americans lose whatever confidence they have in government. The mess continues.

God Save the United States.


2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.